Oct. 24 this year will be a National Holiday. It will be the end of Ramadan and the Muslim world will be celebrating Eid ul-Fitr. It is actually a major holiday for our Muslim brothers, just like Christmas is to Christians. Unfortunately, the significance of the event will once again be lost on non-Muslims, who will most likely see it as just another non-working day, just another day to play hooky.
It is yet another sad commentary of our times that it seems nobody gives any meaning or importance to why certain days are celebrated as national holidays: In particular, why there is a law declaring the end of Ramadan as a national day of commemoration and celebration.
There are times when I am convinced that even Holy Week and the Christmas season, the two religious seasons in the Christian world, have simply become occasions for rest and recreation. I know many people who hie off to the beach during Holy Week and party hard even on Good Friday. And then there are those who go abroad during Christmas, preferably somewhere where Christmas is not observed, say in Vietnam or Cambodia, to get away from the crass commercialism that has become attached to the occasion.
Well at least many people still observe All Saints’ Day by visiting the graves of departed loved ones although I am aware that cemeteries transform into one giant playground around then. In fact, I remember one American friend of mine commenting once that All Saints’ Day in the Philippines seems to be another huge fiesta, the only difference being that the merrymaking and the drinking and the partying are held in cemeteries.
The problem is that no one seems to be taking the trouble to explain the significance of our national holidays. In the past, this was clearly the domain of the education department, but I guess when the word “culture” (as in Department of Education and Culture) was dropped from their official name, the mandate vanished along with it.
When I was a kid, Linggo ng Wika, United Nations Week, and even Flag Day were commemorated with pomp and pageantry. It seemed then that everyone appreciated the significance of these occasions.
Not anymore today.
And so we have a situation where the significance of such an occasion as Eid ul-Fitr is lost among ordinary Filipinos. It is enough to make one wonder why we bother commemorating the occasion if we do not observe it properly anyway.
Eid ul-Fitr is significant because it marks the end of Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for our Muslim brothers. For billions of Muslims around the world, the Ramadan is a month of blessing, marked by prayer, fasting, and charity. What is noteworthy is that while other holidays such as Christmas have become widely commercialized, Ramadan has retained its religious focus.
Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid ul-Fitr, which literally means the “Festival of Breaking the Fast.” It is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations (the other occurs after the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca). During Eid ul-Fitr, Muslims dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, exchange gifts, and celebrate with friends and family. It really is like Christmas—minus the commercialism, of course.
I know these things because one of my best friends is a Muslim—was, actually, because he had passed on to the other world. One of the many great things that he taught me when he was still alive was appreciation of the culture of our Muslim brothers. It is a gift that I treasure up to this day because it cleansed me of prejudice toward Muslims, something I never knew I had and actually denied having. Thanks to him, today I can walk at night in the heart of Quiapo where our Muslim brothers do their trade, eat at the many food stalls there, and even do business with Muslims without some irrational fear gnawing at my heart.
I am sure you are thinking “what’s the big deal with that?” You probably go to Quiapo, too, perhaps to buy pirated DVDs or other goods from the Muslim Trade Center. But many if not most of us do so without thinking of them as our coequal. Many among us do business with them with some reservation, perhaps in fact with a sliver of fear; a little trepidation or some measure of distaste. There’s the fear that they are out to take advantage of us (a common stereotype is that they are terrorists). Or perhaps that they are spreading some contagious disease (there’s this really fallacious stereotype that they are dirty). Or maybe perhaps you’ve heard someone making fun of their hard Tausug accent and you also found it hilarious.
Our Muslim brothers are second-class citizens in this country—and probably elsewhere too. The odds are truly stacked high against them. There are just too many horror stories of Muslims being the object of bigotry and prejudice particularly in the aftermath of the 9/11.
Which is why holidays such as Eid ul-Fitr should be a welcome opportunity for all Filipinos to appreciate our Muslim brothers as well as their traditions and beliefs. Our Muslim brothers are Filipinos too, and they make up a sizable percentage of the population. But more than anything else, our Muslim brothers are people too, no different from you and me. They may worship another representation of a Supreme Being, speak another language, or even follow a different set of customs and traditions. But they are just like us and they are entitled to the same rights and level of respect.
So on Oct. 24, when the Muslim world commemorates the end of Ramadan and celebrates Eid ul-Fitr, I hope that we can all spare a moment from our vacation to reflect on the significance of such a national holiday.